In The News

Civil War Embalming: A Demonstration of Period Technique at the Old Court House’ set

This story originally appeared in the Journal Gazette

EFFINGHAM — A presentation titled: “Civil War Embalming: A Demonstration of Period Technique at the Old Court House,” will be held at 6 p.m. May 8, in Effingham at the former courthouse building.

The Helen Matthes Library and the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association will host the presentation, which will be given by Jon Austin, a Road Scholar for the Illinois Humanities Council.

In character as Dr. Benjamin F. Lyford, following the Battle of Gettysburg, Austin presents a first-person presentation in the style of a 19th Century medical school lecture for general audiences, using a re-enactor “corpse” as a visual aid. The audience will learn about the verification of death; period medicine and chemistry; human anatomy; and the preparation of dead soldiers for shipping and burial; in addition to 19th Century mourning rituals, Lincoln’s funeral, and the ways in which modern funeral practices have developed over time.

The event is being produced in part by the Illinois Humanities Council’s Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, a program that provides organizations statewide with affordable, entertaining, and thought-provoking humanities events for their communities. A roster of speakers, hailing from 16 different towns and cities across Illinois, present topics in history, culture, literature, music, politics, law, science, and many more.

Mallory Laurel, the IHC’s coordinator for the program, states “The contagious passion our speakers have for their topics is what makes this program so dynamic and appealing. We don’t need to change lives; we just want audiences to feel curious again.”

Austin, a native of Peoria, began a full-time career in the museum field in 1987 after receiving an undergraduate degree with honors from Bradley University and graduate degrees in both American history and museum studies from New York University.

He is the former executive director of The Illinois State Historical Society and was the first executive director of the former Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield. From 2009 until 2013, he served as the general manager of Springdale Cemetery in Peoria.

While employed by the Illinois Funeral Directors Association, he developed our program as a way to teach the public about the early years of American funeral service. Since 2000, he has studied the subject, becoming an authority on the history of a unique profession.

He has appeared on MSNBC, The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, National Geographic Explorer, WGN-TV Chicago, National Public Radio’s ‘All Things Considered’, and public television stations across Illinois. He has appeared in USA Today, the New York Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune, and in each of the state’s daily newspapers. He presents first-person, period demonstrations to schools, community groups, historical organizations, roundtables, and at Civil War re-enactments throughout Illinois and Indiana. His active research interest focuses on the embalming surgeons of the Civil War. He is currently a speaker in the Illinois Humanities Council’s Road Scholar Speakers Bureau.